A Heisman watch looking at the top 10 players heading into Week 10 of the college football season. The ACC continues to be well represented, led by Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson and Dalvin Cook.
It’s true that what happens in November is what the voters remember. But with two months of stats and film on file, the number of legitimate Heisman challengers continues to dwindle to a more manageable group. Of course, that does not mean it’s impossible for someone outside of the current top 10 to make a charge over the final five Saturdays. There’s a pecking order established, though written in pencil for the time being.
With nine weeks of the 2016 season in the books, we look at how the contenders are lining up for this season’s Heisman Trophy.
10. San Diego State RB Donnel Pumphrey
Every year or so someone hangs up sick enough numbers to garner attention, despite playing for an off-Broadway program. Pumphrey has been that guy this season out of the Mountain West. The senior is currently running away with the nation’s lead in rushing, jetting for 1,469 yards and 13 scores on 223 carries. He’s an undersized home run hitter for an Aztec team that’s only lost one time. And if the record-setting Pumphrey can reach 2,000 yards, a top-10 Heisman finish will be among his many prizes.
9. Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey
A return to health and a date with the Arizona defense was all McCaffrey needed to remind fans that he’s still one of the country’s most exciting and diverse playmakers. The junior enjoyed one of his best games of the season, rushing for more than 100 yards for the first time since Sept. 24 against UCLA. He also scored three times, twice on the ground and once on a reception. With Oregon State, Oregon, Cal and Rice rounding out the regular season, McCaffrey’s ceiling isn’t much higher than where he sits right now.
8. Alabama QB Jalen Hurts
The offseason debate in Tuscaloosa centered on whether Blake Barnett or Cooper Bateman would be Jacob Coker’s successor. Barnett has left the team, Bateman has attempted 10 passes, and Hurts is now firmly on the Heisman radar. The freshman is a key reason why the Tide is on pace to set a single-season school record for scoring. Hurts has thrown for 12 touchdowns and 1,578 yards, but it’s his 521 yards and nine scores on the ground that have really helped transform the Bama offensive attack.
7. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield
With Kansas on the other side of the ball, Mayfield remained on fire, tossing at least two touchdown passes for an eighth straight game. He didn’t have to do too much, leaning on his arm and his backs before heading to the bench in favor of backup Austin Kendall. Mayfield has the numbers and the name recognition. But he also has his Sooners peaking following a rocky start. If OU wins the Big 12, the senior is capable of surpassing last year’s fourth-place finish.
6. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Barrett is the quarterback of a name brand national title contender, so he’ll be in the team picture until the Buckeyes suffer a second loss. Like it or not, that’s the way Heisman voters often view this process. But Barrett isn’t doing enough as the conductor of a sputtering offense to actually grow his base of supporters. The redshirt junior failed to produce a score in Ohio State’s 24-20 win over Northwestern, rushing for 71 yards and completing 21-of-32 passes for 223 yards. He’ll need to torch Michigan in four weeks to get invited to New York City.
5. Washington QB Jake Browning
Week 9 was not the site of Browning’s best effort of his sophomore season. However, it was good enough to keep him in the upper echelon of Heisman contenders, especially since his Huskies got the win over Utah on a special teams touchdown. Browning was largely held in check by the talented Utes defense, finishing 12-of-20 for 186 yards, two touchdowns to John Ross and an interception. Browning gets his next big shot to shine when streaking USC visits on Nov. 12.
4. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
Cook started slowly against Clemson and then proceeded to show why he’s likely to finish the season with the most Heisman votes among all running backs. Facing the most talented defense that he’s seen all year, Cook almost singlehandedly carried the Noles back from a two-touchdown deficit by rushing for 169 yards and four scores on 19 carries. He isn’t winning the award, especially since the three-loss Noles won’t be playing nationally meaningful games in November, but there’s still a good shot to get to New York City as a finalist.
3. Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers
The Wolverines held off Michigan State in East Lansing, affording Peppers an opportunity to once again showcase the full range of his abilities. He accounted for eight points, a rushing touchdown and a return of a failed two-point conversion attempt. And while Peppers had an imperfect day on defense, he still chipped in seven more tackles and a sack. He was trending on social media throughout the early games, an indication that everything he does the rest of the way will be magnified. That’s a good thing for a Heisman contender.
2. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
Watson is the starting pitcher who no longer blows the ball by batters, but he consistently finds a way to win games. And being the high-profile quarterback of one of the country’s five remaining unbeaten teams carries with it a lot of equity in Heisman circles. Saturday night in Tallahassee was quintessential Watson this season. He had his ups and downs, rushing for 52 yards while completing 27-of-43 for 378 yards, two touchdowns and two picks. But when Clemson needed him most, he rallied his team back, capped by a 34-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Leggett with two minutes left.
1. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson
Call it a Heisman moment. Call it clutch. Whatever the label, Jackson really delivered for the Cardinals on Saturday, finding wide receiver Jaylen Smith on a game-winning pass with 13 seconds left to escape Virginia. It was the sophomore’s fourth touchdown throw to go along with well over 400 yards of total offense. Jackson has already shown he can provide the requisite numbers and snap off highlight reel runs. In Week 9, he enhanced his spot as the frontrunner with a beautifully thrown ball in crunch time that kept Louisville alive in the playoff chase.